In times of crisis and incredible human hardship, it is essential to support organizations that are instrumental to the community’s cohesiveness and resilience. Elizabeth Rowley, the President and CEO of The Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan, joins Brian Powers to share how the foundation is helping during the COVID-19 crisis. For more than twenty years, The Community Foundation has been acting as a conduit in which people can donate to a cause or nonprofit of their choice or start their own charity fund. Elizabeth showcases the foundation’s COVID-19 response fund, as well as the fifth-year launch of Hudson Valley Gives, an event designed to create a buzz on social media and generate funds for participating nonprofits. She believes that in this time, it is critical to prop up the organizations that will be at the forefront of charitable work. Listen in for more.
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How The Community Foundation Is Helping During The COVID-19 Crisis With Elizabeth Rowley
Welcome Elizabeth Rowley, President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan, and my long-time friend. I’m glad to have you here. Tell us a little bit about the Community Foundation, even your background and what you guys got going on?
Thank you for having us. This is a great opportunity for the foundation. We go back a lot of years of stories we won’t talk about for this show, but good times for sure. Thank you for the opportunity and to everyone at JGS for all the support you offer to Community Foundation. For many years we’ve been long-time partners, we appreciate that. A little bit about the Community Foundation, 2019 was the twentieth anniversary of the foundation here in Orange and Sullivan County.
The best way that I like to describe what we do at the foundation is we’re similar to a bank or a financial institution, but all of the money that we manage and all the assets that we have at the foundation are all designated for charitable or community-oriented purposes. I also like to use the term turnkey nonprofit or turnkey foundation. We like to make it as easy as possible for people to give back to their communities, to be charitable, to be a philanthropist in their own way.
What that means is that we at the foundation take care of all the administrative work, all of the tax filings, the annual audit, all of the financial obligations that come along with having an organization. Allow those that we work with, the donors, the families, the organizations to focus on the fun stuff whether it’s fundraising, hosting events, and then giving out the money, which is the best part of it all. We’ve been around for many years. I also like always to share that we are one of about 800 community foundations scattered throughout the United States.
Even here in the Hudson Valley, we have our neighbors across and upstate community foundations of the Hudson Valley and they cover Dutchess, Ulster, and Putnam County. We also have a small and growing community foundation in Rockland County that we provide all the back-office administration for. There’s also a great foundation in Westchester and another great one in the Capital District. There are many of these community foundations all over focusing on the specific geographic territory.
To sum it up, it’s almost done for you in giving or done for you in nonprofit. If they had a relative that passed away and you wanted to honor them by having a scholarship foundation, come to you guys and run the back end of it.
That’s what it’s all about. I can’t tell you how many times we meet with people who are interested in doing something. The first question is, “Do you write all the thank you letters?” Things like that take a lot of time. People are working, raising children, dealing with all situations in their lives. We like to make it as easy as possible for people to give back on our loved ones. A lot of what we do with JGS is work with people on their long-term plans, their estate plans, their tax plans. If there is a way that we charitable giving into that plan, the Community Foundation is a good partner there.
We are set up to be a perpetual fund. Our funds are invested in the market. Many of them are endowments, which means they’re only spending a percentage of their earnings every year but meant to be here, well beyond our lifetime, still giving out scholarships to local students in the name of who they’re established for. We take care of all the back office, all the administrative work and make it simple for people to give back to their communities. We have about 315 component funds and those are each of these separate accounts that people have set up.
All in, we manage about $31 million in charitable assets. Many of that I had described is for long-term perpetual funds. We also work with a lot of people who are trying to make an impact whether it’s building a playground in a community or hosting an annual community festival like Newburgh Illuminated or bringing people to beautiful downtown. There are many ways that the foundation can play a role in the community and charitable giving.The Community Foundation’s core mission is to connect people who care with causes that matter. Click To Tweet
I can only speak from experience. I was on the Town of Wallkill Boys & Girls Club board. We were lucky enough to have a large donation and we took a piece of it and brought it to you guys. It was great how you helped us and we do scholarships off of it. To boot, I’m on a board on the Poughkeepsie side of the river, Miles of Hope. We use your counterpart, the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley to administer our scholarships as well with that.
It’s a great partnership. We work with a lot of nonprofit organizations that are working hard on implementing their programs and delivering their services that worrying about a finance and investment policy. All of these other little particulars that come along with having an endowment. Oftentimes, it’s a natural fit to work with the foundations that we can take care of all of that and look over everything as a whole. There’s also benefit of being in a pooled fund when it comes to some of the fees and returns as well. There are lots of different roles that community foundations can play. In communities, we are all a little bit different, but we all have that core mission of connecting people who care with causes that matter and making it easy to be charitable and be connected in your community.
I know with COVID-19 and the pandemic hitting our area, you guys have established a fund directly related to that.
When things started to heat up and it was apparent that this was going to be a real crisis in our communities and the pause officially went into place and in mid-March, we quickly got calls from affluent community people and members of our community who were calling us to say, “What are you guys doing? What are we going to do? How are we going to give back and make a difference to make sure that people are able to get the services that they need and get the food on the table?”
We quickly established the Orange and Sullivan COVID-19 Response Fund. We are able to secure some initial funding from some outstanding area foundations and corporations. I’ll mention a few, The Kaplan Family Foundation of legend here local, they stepped up. The Ralph E. Ogden Foundation, a long-time foundation here, big supporters of Storm King Art Center. They also stepped up. My Family Foundation quickly stepped up along with a couple of other families locally who said this is something important.
Right out of the gate, within a couple of days, I’m proud to say that we had raised over $200,000 from this cornerstone group. It was committed to making sure that nonprofit organizations locally could have resources to provide all things I described like food, transportation, hygiene products, medication, the list goes on and on. It took off from there. That was within a few days after St. Patrick’s Day. We had raised that initial money and went full steam ahead with putting the application out to nonprofits and continuing to raise money quietly. I have to say that most of it was solicited.
We’ve had an incredible response, but I will say that it’s not because we were asking, it was because these corporations, foundations and individuals in our community genuinely wanted to do something and wanting to give back. We very quickly heard from Central Hudson, Orange and Rockland, Orange Bank & Trust, Walden Savings, Wallkill Valley Federal Savings & Loan. Many of these businesses that have been here through so much, they wanted to do something.
We were blessed to have that great outpouring of support and then had a couple of other foundations outside the area who gave us a little attention to New York State Health Foundation, for example, who doesn’t do a lot of local grantmaking but knew that Orange County was in the hot zone. Particularly, the City of Newburgh has a high number of cases. They came to us and said, “We want to do something and we want to make sure it stays local in Orange,” and a couple of others.
It was incredible. I’m thrilled to share that we’re well over $500,000 raised. We have had everything from $10 donations from individuals up to $55,000, which I like to talk about too because it goes to show you that people do want to help and the people’s hearts are in it. They know that they can’t go out and volunteer. They can’t go to their soup kitchen and serve meals. They can’t do a lot of this in-person volunteering that typically people do when there’s a crisis.
We have the hurricanes that have crippled our area in the past, but it’s not the same with COVID. It’s been awesome to see how many people have been visiting our website and hitting that donate button and making gifts of all sizes. That’s been rewarding. On the flip side of that, we are regularly reviewing applications from our nonprofits throughout the region. We are focused on Orange and Sullivan County with this fund, but we’ve made about 80 grants ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. We’re about half in. We’ve spent about more than half of that $500,000 at any idea to get all this money back out into the community.
It’s not an endowment, it’s not a long-term bond. This is for critical needs. We’ll continue as long as there’s a need and we’ll keep raising money as long as we can. For any organizations, the application is right on our website, I know you’ll have all that information up at the end and that’s the same place where the donate button is. If you feel compelled to make a donation, if you sit on a board, or work for or volunteer for an organization that’s providing these critical emergency needs, all that information is right on the website.
It’s a huge resource. I’m happy that the community steps up in times of crisis. This is such a unique one. I’m not surprised that it happened the way it is and I’m sure it will continue to grow.
I like to talk about it because it’s something positive we can all focus on. I’ve been sharing a lot of information with our board of directors and our committee members. To give people a little bit of hope as we move forward. I would be remiss in not thanking JGS also for your support. It’s no surprise there that you guys are always willing to step up and support many charitable initiatives.
The partners came to me and said, “Let’s do something.” Based on the fact that it needed to be done and we normally participate in many charity things during the year, golf outings, dinners, events like that which aren’t happening. We knew that those organizations are going to need help as well. We also had money that we wanted to donate here. We are happy to do it and happy to help. I know there’s a big event coming up, Hudson Valley Gives. Talk a little bit about that. Tell us what it is and how people can get involved.
To what you were saying, this spring, summer, and likely even into the fall, many organizations locally are going to be canceling their events. There’s no choice in the matter of whether it’s a run, a golf outing, a dinner, etc. It’s going to be a different climate for a little while. Hudson Valley Gives, we’ve executed this initiative. The idea here is that it’s all about online, it’s all about generating a buzz through social media and through the web. We had some serious conversation about whether or not it was appropriate to move forward with this, if it would appear that we were a little tone-deaf like asking people for money when there are all hardships happening.
We hear from many of the organizations locally that they’re scrambling a little bit. They’re not sure what the future holds. They’re losing all revenue because they’re not delivering any services at all due to the shutdown or not sure what the future will hold with state and federal grants. Fundraising events oftentimes filled in those holes for organizations. What we’re striving to do through Hudson Valley Gives is create this online platform where any organization in the Valley can sign up to participate in this organized, concentrated effort, which is all about giving where you live. It’s all about supporting these organizations that are critical in our communities.
I don’t know about you, but for me, in our little community of Newburgh where we live, these organizations are integral in the future of this community. Whether it’s Habitat for Humanity or Safe Harbors or Cornerstone Family Health, those are the anchor institutions that are going to help lift our communities up and have been for years, but certainly moving forward after the pandemic are going to be important. Our idea before was about trying to engage younger people. Even I include myself in this, I’m not writing checks to nonprofits.It is in difficult times like this that the community really steps up to support each other. Click To Tweet
I’m going on their website, I’m giving online. We develop this initiative to try to begin to shift the mindset in terms of how the fundraising is happening and also generate awareness of young people about the nonprofit sector, about serving as a board member. We all know that these boards are aging, we are going to need to engage the next generation. It’s all about cultivating and engaging the next generation. We’ve been moving forward and giving it our best. We have 130 nonprofits participating. We’re psyched about that. There’s something for everyone in Hudson Valley Gives.
We love to talk about whether your passion is animals or the arts, homelessness or local culture, etc. The sky is the limit. We encourage anyone who’s reading to check out HVGives.org, see the incredible list of organizations that are participating and make a donation or two if you’re able to. Certainly, we understand it’s difficult times, but every little bit helps and the idea here is that we’re coming together as a community and rising up together to make sure we can keep forging ahead.
Those small and large organizations are the fabric of the Hudson Valley, woven into. We want to want to make sure that they carry forward through this storm. I’ve been involved on the board level and it’s a great opportunity to bring awareness, but for people to give as well. You do some fun stuff. We were talking about a virtual dance party.
We’ve incorporated some different elements. We engaged The Vargas Brothers, which probably many of the readers have seen out and about playing throughout the Valley. They jumped right on the opportunity to help us out and hosted a couple of hundred people to this awesome dance party. We showed some videos of some of the organizations that are participating and trying to get people excited. That was one thing. The other thing we are doing again is giving out an abundance of prizes. Throughout the day, nonprofits can compete for all different prizes. There’s a full list on the website about the couple of fun things we are doing. The organization to get the first donation when the clock strikes midnight will get a prize.
We’re also doing a prize this year for the organization that has the most number of states represented in their donation or their donor pool. We had done one for the organization that got the donor from the furthest away, which was a small town in Australia, but we are switching it up a little bit. I’m encouraging people to have some fun with it. We are also doing some things around on selfie, which you can post pictures. We have a lot of cool downloadable signs and fun little things on the website. We want people to have some fun around it, spend the day being positive, and looking to support these great organizations throughout the Valley.
I’m looking at the site and some of the break it up prizes and different things like that. Is there still time if there’s a nonprofit that wants to get involved?
It’s getting pretty close, but if anyone is dying to get involved, they can definitely call our office and we’ll see what we can do.
You have a toolkit built out for them as well?
The toolkit is on there. That has sample social media posts. It has a lot of cool images that you can download right from the site, including a little customizable image for your profile picture with the little logo in it. There’s a lot of cool stuff on there. In 2020, we didn’t do some of the in-person things we’ve done. We always had a great party at the Newburgh Brewing Company. They’ve been super supportive. We won’t be there, but we’re hoping to get out in the Valley a little bit and have some safe social distance visits to some of our area organizations. It should be a lot of fun.
We’ve now surpassed $1 million raised through Hudson Valley Gives since it started. We opened the donation button for HV Gives and needed $6,000 or $7,000 to get us to $1 million since we founded this thing. We’re proud of that and have high hopes. GiveGab, which is the online giving platform behind this giving day, does these all over the country. They’re telling us that all their giving days they’ve done have been up close to between 15% to 20% up. Those are significant numbers. We’re optimistic that Hudson Valley will again step up, come out and, and give big to all these great organizations.
I know sometimes people are reluctant to give online. What are the fees attached to it? I know GiveGab is an organization that works with nonprofits to reduce those fees, is that right?
Yeah. There is a little bit of a fee for the transaction. It’s about 4.5% which covers the standard merchant fee for the credit card company and the platform fee, which is for all the bells and whistles that GiveGab has to offer. We are excited because we actually got a sponsor, Standback General Contractors, you might know those guys James and Thomas Amend and Joseph Wojciechowski. They stepped up to be the fee sponsor. They’ll be covering all fees, not covered by donors from lunchtime until midnight up to $5,000. We were thrilled to get that. It just came in. Many businesses are trying to figure out where they’re going to spend their money and how they’re going to give back. They felt like this was a great opportunity to support all 130 organizations that were participating. That’s something we haven’t had before and is going to help give that extra push we need. Those fees are covered and that nonprofits can recognize the full donation if the donors don’t cover it.
That’s hesitation on some folk’s part that they’d rather write the check out and send it in.
I don’t want to turn anyone off. If that’s what works for you, you can certainly write a check and mail it to your favorite organization. I’m sure they’d be thrilled to have it too. There is an opportunity on the website for the organizations to enter an offline donation. Those can be factored into the tallies. Sometimes that happens too. We understand that. It’s all good. Our only rule with the Community Foundation, and this comes from my predecessors, we don’t take anything with wheels or wings. We’ll happily take checks, credit cards, gold bricks, whatever you’ve got, we’ll make it work.
Let’s reinforce that Hudson Valley Gives is acting as a conduit for folks to get to their favorite charity or if they don’t know that charity associated with the favorite topic. This is a way to do that. You are not filling the coffers of the Community Foundation. This is just you’re working as a conduit to get that money in the right hands.
This is another role that we fill in the community is being a resource for nonprofits to help them be more effective, to build their capacity. As things continue to shift, you’ll be hearing more from us around some specific training and some expertise and resources that we’re hoping to be able to offer to our nonprofits as well because we recognize that. Many boards and staff leadership are going to be struggling, going to have to make some very difficult decisions. Even for us, we just went through a budget planning process for our new year. It’s tough. It’s hard to plan. It’s hard to know what’s coming. The foundation is here for the nonprofits, here as a resource. Hudson Valley Gives is one thing, this COVID funds, certainly the response fund as well. We are a partner in all things charity.
Looking at the site, there’s no surprise to some of the names that are up here us sponsors. If you want to give them some credit, I know a lot of them and I’m not surprised that their names are up here.It is very important to support organizations that are critical to the community. Click To Tweet
I mentioned Standback General Contractors, those guys have been awesome and have helped many organizations locally. Walden Savings Bank, you can’t go to a parade or community gathering and not see their logo up. Derrik and his team are great. Steingart Printing which has done all of our printing at the foundation for many years, a fourth-generation printing company up in Fallsburg. We thank them for their support. Orange Regional Medical Center, Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, Mid-Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union, and our friends at Association of Fundraising Professionals. A couple of more great sponsors and a special mention to Orange Regional Medical Center and all of their staff were on the front lines providing such important roles in our community.
We also have Seely & Durland Insurance, William A. Smith & Son Insurance, to insurance companies that have been long time institutions locally. Beer World, they’re our new sponsor. We know Beer World is doing well. People are out getting through these days somehow. We were thrilled that they stepped up. We also have a couple of media sponsors who have been great at sharing the word about what we’re doing. K104, they were a key partner in our Friday night dance party with The Vargas Brothers, Bold Gold Media, which focuses up in Sullivan County. Wall Radio and Mid Hudson News, good old Frank Rose always there to promote us as well. I should say a huge thank you to the Dyson Foundation, they are the go-to foundation here locally, have supported many organizations in this initiative since it was founded believing in a dream when I pitched it to them and continuing to come back year after year to support our efforts.
This is a great initiative and we’re hopefully going to help spread the word even more.
Thanks, Brian. I appreciate that.
What’s the Community Foundation’s website if people want to access it?
The Community Foundation’s website is CFOSNY.org. We are also present on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and a little bit of Twitter. Check us out on those platforms as well. We are staying active with updates going on in all of our different initiatives.
You are doing a lot of great work. I’m glad we were able to get you on and I’m sure we will definitely come back to do another episode in the months to come.
Thanks again, Brian, for the opportunity. Thanks to everyone at JGS for all the work that you’re doing to give back.
I’m happy to do it.
- Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan
- Town of Wallkill Boys & Girls Club
- Miles of Hope
- Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley
- Orange and Sullivan COVID-19 Response Fund
- Hudson Valley Gives
- Standback General Contractors
- Dyson Foundation
- Facebook – Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan
- Instagram – Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan
- LinkedIn – Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan
- Twitter – Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan
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